Daffodils, tulips, bluebells and pansies have already surfaced, and soon butterflies, roses, iris and fair-weather gardeners will, too. But there’s a place in Washington County where gardens are cared for year-round, and their caretakers gather when the rains come and the sun bakes to complete the tasks of the season.

That’s what Tualatin Valley Garden Club members have been doing since 1959. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Members of the Tualatin Valley Garden Club, including Dave and Lucinda Russell, have been working for months to prepare for their annual spring plant sale, getting a head start in the greenhouse.

They planted the rhododendrons that garnish city lawns near the County Courthouse more than 40 years ago, helped landscape Hillsboro’s once-lone high school, filled city flowerbeds with foliage and flowers, funded special prizes at the county fair and appointed rhododendron the official flower of Washington County.

The club’s members — about 40 from Hillsboro, Beaverton, Forest Grove, Verboort and other surroundings areas — meet monthly with refreshments and a featured speaker, raise funds for scholarships and to buy books for the Hillsboro Public Library, landscape gardens throughout the county, and maintain plots at the Washington County Fairgrounds Demonstration Gardens.

The club used to be for men only, but when they voted to include women in 1988 when membership was $3.50 per person, Lucinda Russell joined her husband, Dave, who had been a member since 1972.

“The women went to events and the men did all the work,” she said with a laugh.

Now, all the members work hard at keeping up with the club’s obligations, including helping maintain the rhododendron gardens at Hillsboro’s Rood Bridge Park and plots at the fairgrounds.

They’re busy this time of year planting early crops and prepping for summer, and now is the time to feed rhododendrons an acidic fertilizer.

Most of their members are older now, though, Russell said, so they’ve had to downsize their responsibilities.

Still, the demonstration gardens are not lacking. They’re filled with herbs, perennials, fruits and veggies, and soil ready to be planted.

Their year-round efforts lead up to a few summer days — the Washington County Fair, held annually the last weekend in July — when an estimated 5,000 people stop by the gardens to catch a glimpse of flower-hopping mason bees, smell grapes still on the vine, and put their hands in the dirt and come up with a carrot.

“It’s all about teaching others. We want to share gardening with people,” Russell said. “We try to grow something new every year.”

This year, she’s growing spelt, an ancient species of wheat that’s making a comeback as a health food.

It will be a challenge to get this grain ready for fair time, but Russell is excited about the possibility of success and using the harvest to make her own bread.

While Russell enjoys experimenting, her mainstay butterfly garden is a favorite.

She plants and maintains perennials that attract butterflies. Hummingbirds and bees like it, too.

Plants with high nectar content that serve as larval food work best to feed butterflies in all stages of life. Jupiter’s Beard, Scarlet Beebalm, Butterfly Milkweed and Cypress Vine are good options for this area, among others.

Russell’s staples include valerian, which typically bears clusters of small pink or white flowers; Asters and coreopsis, both of the daisy family; sunflowers; delphinium, which have tall spikes of blue flowers; mums; Lamb’s Ear; Autumn Joy Sedum, which boasts bright pink or red blooms; and Monarda and holly hocks, which can grow fairly tall.

Russell’s favorite flowers are those that attract butterflies and bees but don’t require a lot of pruning.

Russell will be selling various plants at the club’s annual sale, co-sponsored by the Tualatin Valley Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The sale will be near the east entrance, at the intersection of 34th Avenue and Cornell Road. Parking and admission will be free.

For sale will be annuals, perennials, rhododendrons, native plants, vegetables, roses, herbs and more. Members start plants from seed and dig out plants from their personal gardens to sell.

New club members are always welcome, whether they’re looking for camaraderie, practicality, advice, a peaceful reprieve or a new challenge. It’s all in the garden.

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